Stepping into the Painted Chair space on the second floor of the Santa Maria Town Center East is like walking along a path through a whimsical garden.

But rather than plants, this garden is created with furniture covered with art inspired by literature — classic tales from children’s books as well as stories that delve into the fabric of society.

Not that there aren’t any plants — greenery sprouting profusely from a chair based on “The Secret Garden,” the wooden tree beneath another themed after “Seeds and Trees,” the branches curling from “The True Story of the Three Little Pigs.”

In all, 50 pieces of furniture and quilts created and decorated by local artists will be raffled off in a drawing presented by the Friends of The Santa Maria Public Library.

Tickets are available at one for $1 or six for $5. Buyers place tickets bearing their names and phone numbers in the buckets in front of the items they’d like to win.

“On May 3rd we’ll close the doors at 3 p.m. and we’ll have the drawing at 4 p.m.,” said Jeni Newell, co-chair of the raffle committee with husband Randy. “So anyone who puts a ticket in a bucket up until 3 o’clock May 3rd has a chance to win.”

Each ticket purchaser also is given a ballot to vote for their favorite piece. The artist whose creation gets the most votes will win the People’s Choice Award.

“I really like the dragon,” said Mark Osborn of Orcutt, indicating the chair based on “Dragonheart.”

Then looking at the chair next to it, he added, “Of course, you can’t go wrong with ‘Superman.’”

In the end he put raffle tickets in for the quilt based on “I Can Grow a Flower” and the “Alex in Wonderland” chair, but voted for the one themed for “Owl Babies.”

Sometimes the chairs people want to take home and the ones they like the most aren’t the same.

“I look at all the chairs and wonder, ‘Do I have a place to put that?’” said Donna Fulton of Santa Maria, who walked among the brightly colored chairs Saturday afternoon.

That can be a dilemma.

“Some of these we could actually use. Somewhere,” Jerry Smythe of San Luis Obispo said. “Others … I wonder where we’d put it. And how we’d keep the kids from destroying it.

“We may put tickets on the ones we can use and vote for our favorites,” added Smythe, who with wife Annah came to the mall for another reason and were drawn in by the unusual pieces visible through the glass storefront.

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A chair inspired by the book "The True Story of the Three Little Pigs" by artist Dona Kintzi is on display at the Painted Chairs show on the second floor of the Santa Maria Town Center. The item will be raffled off in a benefit for the Friends of the Santa Maria Public Library.

“I’m voting for the ‘Secret Garden,’” Annah said.

“Which one?” Jerry asked.

“There’s more than one?” she said with a surprised look.

Having more than one based on the same book is not that unusual, said Marilyn Moll, a former president of the Friends who was volunteering at the exhibit.

“There are never any two alike, even if people do the same book,” she said.

Newell agreed the creations are all unique.

“We can have an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ every single year, and I can never remember any two alike,” she said.

Anyone can paint a chair for the fundraiser, the biggest one of the year for the Friends of the Santa Maria Library. In fact, as of Saturday afternoon, 20 people had already signed the sheet at the entrance to paint a chair for next year’s event.

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A child's school desk with artwork based on the book "Go Dog Go" by artist Janet Cummings is among the items in the Painted Chairs show on the second floor of the Santa Maria Town Center East. It's one of 50 items to be raffled off May 3 in a benefit for the Friends of the Santa Maria Public Library.

Newell said some artists provide their own chairs — they have an idea of what they want it to look like, then they go out and find a chair to fit their vision.

Others come to the “artist pickup days” held in October and November where they can select one of the chairs donated to the Friends throughout the year.

And not all the furniture consists of chairs. This year, two tables, a rocking horse, a cabinet with doors, a wall-mounted shelf, a “free little library” house and a wardrobe have been decorated for the event.

“Whoever brings whatever, we take it, even if it might not be something we’d normally think of,” Newell said.

In fact, the “Rosie’s Walk” free little library house was custom built for the raffle by her husband, Randy.

“He’s more of a builder than a decorator,” she said.

Three quilts each designed around a book theme are also included in the raffle.

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A little library inspired by the book "Rosie's Walk" was built by Randy Newell, co-chairman with wife Jeni of the Painted Chair Raffle committee for the Friends of the Santa Maria Public Library. It's among 50 items to be raffled off May 3 that are on display on the second floor of the Santa Maria Town Center.

Each entry is displayed with the book it’s based on, and the winner of a chair gets the book, too.

“Sometimes the artist buys the book; sometimes we do,” Newell said, adding the Bookworm owner also donates books to the cause. “It takes a village to raise literate kids.”

Literacy was one reason Cristal Guerrero of Guadalupe visited the exhibit with Benjamin Perez, just over 1½ years old.

“I think it’s great what they’re doing,” Guerrero said. “I read a lot to him. You always need a chair to sit him in. We need to do more with literature. We do a lot with technology.”

She said she put tickets in for the big custom-built rocking bench based on “The Adobe Burros: Emily Decides.”

“There’s room for more than one to sit with him,” she said. “He likes it. I’m going with what he likes.”

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A quilt inspired by "The Story of Babar" and "The Blind Men & the Elephant" by artists Eugene and Peggy Blackler is one of the prizes in the Painted Chair Raffle on display on the second floor of the Santa Maria Town Center. The drawing to benefit the Friends of the Santa Maria Public Library is set for May 3.

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County Reporter/Associate Editor

Lee Central Coast Newspapers associate editor Mike Hodgson covers Santa Barbara County government and events and issues in Santa Ynez Valley. Follow him on Twitter @MHodgsonSYVNews.